|RRWCD CREP addendum discussed|
|Written by Stan Murphy, RRWCD General Manager|
The Republican River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was introduced in June of 2006 to pay producers to retire irrigated acreage in the Republican River Basin, to provide conservation benefits and to reduce the consumption of water in the Republican River Basin as a way to assist the State of Colorado to comply with the Republican River Compact.
At the time the CREP was being developed, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was signing CREP contracts with producers in other states for taking irrigated farmland out of production and establishing a grass habitat (CRP) on those acres for a 15-year period, without permanent retirement of the water right.
However, to get maximum benefit for Colorado in the Republican River Compact accounting, the board of directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District elected to offer and pay for permanent water retirement in the Republican River CREP and make permanent water retirement mandatory. The well permit had to be retired.
In 2007, after a very successful first 18 months of enrollments into the program, the RRWCD Board began the process of applying for a new CREP addendum to make more acres available, specifically targeting well owners within a three mile corridor of the North Fork, South Fork and the Arikaree tributaries of the Republican.
The intent of the district with the addendum was to offer producers within the three-mile zone incentives to achieve higher benefits in terms of compact compliance and environmental gains. The district also worked very hard to create language in the new farm bill that would make previously ineligible irrigated land in Washington and Lincoln counties eligible and to make irrigated alfalfa, also previously ineligible in the initial CREP to be eligible under the CREP addendum. Both of these provisions are included in the addendum.
During that same year it became very apparent to everyone that, although the well retirements through CREP and EQIP were providing benefits, a compact compliance pipeline that could deliver water more quickly to the stream was the only feasible alternative to get Colorado into compact compliance in a reasonably short period of time.
A feasibility study was conducted by an independent engineering firm to identify an area suitable for a pipeline that would assure long-term water availability and be located in an area that was cost effective in terms of distance from rivers, etc. Upon the completion of the feasibility study and the selection of the most cost effective site, water rights for the pipeline were identified and the engineering and design work was completed for the pipeline.
Due to the sandy nature of the soils in the targeted area, it was clear the land being irrigated in the area identified would not support dryland farming. Without establishing a grass cover on those fragile lands, wind and soil erosion would be inevitable.
CREP appeared to be the best solution for addressing that problem, as it provides cost-share to producers for cover establishment and the CREP contract with USDA requires long-term protection of the soil resources.
With that thought in mind, the CREP addendum was edited to increase the overall number of acres in the CREP program, including the previously mentioned provisions, and allow pumping a portion of the water from the wells within a targeted area into a pipeline for delivery at the North Fork tributary near the Colorado/Nebraska state line.
The addendum will allow water rights associated with wells within a designated area to be purchased by the district and delivered through the pipeline to increase stream flow in the river. Wells associated with enrolled CREP acres outside that designated area will still have to be retired permanently.
Allowing Colorado irrigated farmers to enroll in the CREP program and then pumping a portion of the water previously used for irrigation from the enrolled acres into the pipeline is similar to what is done in the state of Oregon. There the USDA pays the CREP irrigated rental rate if the producer agrees to enter into an agreement with the state to lease the surface water allocated to those lands to the state for in-stream flow purposes.
Since the designated area is within the current CREP boundaries within the Republican River District, all irrigated acres inside and outside the designated area will be eligible for CREP addendum as long as the acres being offered and the landowner offering the acres meet eligibility requirements.
All irrigated acres enrolled in the CREP addendum whether inside or outside the designated area will not be permitted to be irrigated or cropped during the term of the CREP contract as is the case with the current Republican River CREP. The addendum has preliminary approval by the USDA.